Saint Patrick’s Day Flood, 1936
In the spring of 1936, several days of rain, combined with melting snow from a heavy winte,r caused the Saint Patrick’s Day flood that year.
Unable to handle the runoff, the Sandy Lick Creek overflowed and soon the city flooded. Liberty Boulevard at the time was several feet lower than it is now. The boulevard was covered with more than four feet of water from the Sandy Lick and Beaver Run. Traffic movement was impossible except for some high-bodied trucks. Travelers were trapped for several days in whatever town they happened to be passing through when the waters rose.
Water rose to its highest point during the flood with overflowing streams adding water to the dam. At the local reservoir, it was reported that the waters were rising more than six inches per hour. Forty-two inches of water poured over the spillway. The flood washed out Parker Dam.
The Meadowland area consisted of land between Main Street and the DuBois Mall. The waters turned it temporarily into a lake. The sanctuaries of many birds and animals that lived in the Meadows were flooded. Small animals such as chipmunks and rabbits were seen clinging to tree stumps and other floating debris. The flood severely hurt the local pheasant population.
While the water was rising, residents attempted to move to the second floors of their homes, carrying furniture and rugs to safety. Businesses were hit hard. Stores in the lower sections of the city received more than a foot of water. Store owners used flash boards at the entrances to block water, but passing vehicles caused waves of dirty water to overflow the boards. Flood losses were high at the time, estimated at over two thousand dollars.
DuBois schools were also damaged by the flood waters. Classes were cancelled for almost a week while damage was being assessed. The basement of the high school, then located on Liberty Boulevard, was flooded. Nearly seven feet of water covered the floor the old gymnasium, which was located below the level of the basement classrooms. The floor ripped from its mounting and floated to within a few feet of the ceiling.
Chance of flooding was reduced over the years once five feet of landfill was added to the Boulevard and Meadowlands area. A flood control program in the seventies prevented a recurrence of severe flooding, allowing the Industrial Park to be built and to expand over the years.
Gene M. Aravich
Coke Hill as seen from across the Beaver Meadow during the 1972 flood.
Hurricane Agnes Flood, 1972
Through the years, DuBois has experienced some very costly floods. For local residents, this was a way of life. The entire area known as Beaver Meadow, the Boulevard, and other low-lying areas of the city were usually under water each spring.
During the days leading up the flood, Hurricane Agnes crept up the Atlantic coast, twice being down-graded into a tropical storm and then returning again to hurricane status. On Wednesday, June 22nd, relatively light rain fell on the area.
The next day, Agnes struck. During most of the day, Agnes moved northward along the eastern seaboard, dumping heavy rains over eastern PA. Late Thursday the 23rd, at 9 p.m., the U.S. Weather Bureau Hurricane Center in Boston showed Agnes moving northward on a path that would take it up the Hudson River Valley into New York.
But between 9 and 11 p.m., Agnes turned west and centered itself over DuBois. From then until noon on Friday, Agnes dumped rain on eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia and southwestern New York, with an average of 8 ½ inches of rain reported over most areas. Five states, including hardest hit Pennsylvania, were declared federal disaster areas. Agnes, which formed in the Gulf of Mexico, became the costliest natural disaster in the U.S. at the time. Pennsylvania was brutalized by the storm, with $2.1 billion in damage and 48 deaths.
Sandy Lick Creek, the area for which DuBois had been trying to get aid for a flood control project, was the culprit responsible for flooding DuBois. Affected were the “flats” behind the current Hoss’s Steak n' Sea House on Liberty Boulevard and a large part of the West Long Avenue business district. Virtually every home in the flats was extensively damaged by water.
Water spilled over stream banks with little warning and flooded low areas. Residents and merchants had no time to move their belongings and merchandise to higher ground. Along Liberty Boulevard, over four feet of water covered the road from the Meadow, creating a lake that washed through the American Legion, John B. Green Oil Company, Way Field, the JayCee Pool, A&P Market, Continental Trailways Terminal, DuBrook, the Muter Company, DuBois Tastee Freeze, VFW Teener Field, Rockwell Manufacturing Plant and storage buildings, Pennsylvania Electric Co. offices, DuBois Business College, Foodland Market, Otocsin Motel and others.
The downtown district was under approximately five feet of water, damaging many businesses. Some of these were Kruk Floor Co., V.F.W., Warner’s Men’s Store, Shankel’s Pharmacy, Pennsylvania State Liquor Store, Union Bank Branch Office, Brown’s Boot Shop offices and warehouse, Western Auto store, and John T. Larkin Co.
Paul’s Cocktail Lounge suffered complete property damage, Shakespeare & Sons reported damage to office equipment and trucks, Union Bank and Trust Co. Drive-In Branch had to replace all flooring and some equipment, and the DuBois Manor Motel incurred extensive damage to all first floor units, supply units, and to the Manor House.
Penn Traffic Riverside reported 300 tons of ruined merchandise. Damage exceeded $1,000,000. Paul Reitz, executive spokesman, reported three feet, eight inches of water inside Riverside Market.
Damus Brothers Co. had 42 inches of water in the basement and plant. Water was pumped out 4 times. The company was located next to the Sandy Lick Creek and was severely hit, damaging empty bottles, compressors, and motors.
Shankel’s Pharmacy had 33-42 inches of water in the store. 60 percent of inventory was a total loss. They were able to save the prescription file, turning it over to Corner Drug Store for the time being.
Automobiles in the area and in other low districts of the city were partially or totally submerged. Some cars were parked whereas others were abandoned, having stalled in the water. Wreckers had to be called in to tow the cars out of the way.
The area where Martin’s Grocery Store stands today was then the site of the annual Gateway Fair. The carnival was under approximately eight feet of water. Concessions and amusement rides were completely submerged. Ken Penn Amusements, in town for the fair, reported an estimated $125,000 loss from equipment, supplies, and damage incurred during their stay at the fairgrounds.
The DuBois sewage treatment plant was rendered inoperative by high water from nearby Sandy Lick Creek. All sewer lines were clogged due to dormant flood waters, and nothing could be done until the water receded.
A general power failure occurred in the East Side area of the city for almost 24 hours and other periodic power failures were reported throughout the area. Around 11 p.m., due to damage to the Brady Street sub-station, radio station WCED was temporarily forced to relocate in Falls Creek and extended its signoff time from 11 p.m. until midnight.
Some of the occupants found refuge in emergency shelters in the Third Ward Hose House and in the First Methodist Church. Residents of heavily damaged Hamor Street also stayed in the shelters, which were manned by DuBois firemen. The DuBois Chapter of the American Red Cross coordinated relief efforts.
Other occupants were guests of the Manor Motel and carnival employees from Gateway Fair in town during the week of the flood. According to Clearfield County Civil Defense Director Mary Ellen Shaffer, nearly 100 of the 145 persons housed in the two emergency shelters were DuBois residents. Both locations were empty by Sunday, June 25th. With Liberty Boulevard cleared by Saturday and flood victims out of temporary shelters Sunday, firemen finally began the task of pumping out basements.
Academic life in the community was also affected. The DuBois Area Junior High suffered substantial damage. Water had reached to five- and six-foot levels at its peak. Bus shelters and stadium benches floated away. Penn State’s DuBois campus graduation was cancelled and diplomas were mailed to graduates. The DuBois Business College was extensively damaged.
Many sports activities were temporarily cancelled for the time being because the flood waters had damaged or simply soaked the athletic fields. However, athletes were back on the fields two days after the rain had stopped. The hot weather after the storm helped the fields dry quickly.
A Flood Control project was started in the summer of 1972. On June 19th the House Appropriation Committee approved seven hundred thousand dollars for the project. The project took several years and was completed in 1977 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pittsburgh District, under the direction of the U.S. Army Corps of Environmental Resources. The Boulevard and Industrial Park have been raised by several feet of land fill to help prevent future flooding.
Gene M. Aravich